Small is Beautiful: Ritual, Congregation-Based Community Organizing, and Just Social Change Restricted; Files Only

Sessions, Kristyn (Fall 2018)

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In this dissertation, I argue that a commitment to Christian political action and structural justice demands analysis of how social change is pursued. While Christian teaching affirms the dignity and equality of all persons, the predominant norms and practices of political engagement often encourage participatory distortion, or the de facto marginalization of certain citizens from political decision-making. In order to better understand and respond to this deficit, I propose the framework of ritual thinking, which recognizes certain acts of political participation as rituals and discerns how they shape individual practitioners and the institutions with which they engage. In particular, I highlight the ways in which different political rituals form specific tastes, modes of perception, virtues, and skills in their practitioners. Through ritual thinking, it becomes possible to investigate various acts of political participation and evaluate each according to overarching normative commitments. 

Much of the dissertation centers on my case study of congregation-based community organizing (CBCO), which seeks social change through alternative political rituals, such as 1-1s, research meetings, and actions. Through CBCO rituals, the relationship between the governed and the governing is reimagined so that all individuals might have decision-making power in the political process. Informed by my professional experience as a community organizer, I first demonstrate the potential of CBCO rituals to broaden political participation by cultivating justice-oriented citizens who seek collective leadership and democratized power. I then identify two obstacles to the justice-oriented formation intended by CBCO rituals gleaned from six months of research with an Atlanta-based CBCO group. 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1       Introductions                                                                                                             1

Chapter 2       Ritual Thinking                                                                                                       28

Chapter 3       Ritual Thinking and the Promise of CBCO                                                       51

Chapter 4       Ritual Thinking and Challenges to CBCO Formation                                    93

Chapter 5       Conclusions                                                                                                          138

Appendix                                                                                                                                     153                      

Bibliography                                                                                                                                155

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